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Monday, July 13, 2009

Roots of Pizza

The variations in the human food palate is remarkable. I perused the 241 reviews on John's Pizzeria at the Yelp.com website which ranged from 1 to 5 stars. You will find every permutation of good, mediocre and bad for both service and food. If you don't agree with any given reviews, you could dismiss them as being written by people who have limited experience with pizza or have not tasted better. However, a closer examination of the reviewers will reveal many long time NYC pizza aficionados who actually have sampled the wares from iconic places like DiFara's, Lombardi's, Grimaldi's, Totonno's or Nunzio.
One problem with a place like John's that makes such a large volume of pizza and serves so many people, is that it is possible to have genuinely different experiences either with the food or service. Combine an off night for both with high expectations and the range of reviews become more understandable.
John's Pizzeria, at 278 Bleecker Street in the West Village, was started in 1929 by John Sasso. Current proprietor Bob Vittoria, is a relative of the original owner. John's is one of the few pizzerias in New York City to use a coal-fired brick oven, introduced to the city by Gennaro Lombardi. Anthracite coal is still shoveled daily from the basement to pizzeria's oven. A coal oven can reach temperatures in excess of 800 degrees F. John's is a thin, crispy crust. According to an article in The Villager:

Vittoria attributes the restaurant’s steadfast popularity to the special brick oven that reaches over 800 degrees and crisps the homemade crust to perfection, and the fresh, high-quality meats, produce and cheese. He buys his meat from down the street at Faicco’s Pork Store, open since 1927 at 260 Bleecker St.

You will never get a consensus on a place like this - pizza is one of the most contentious food subjects in New York City. Like sushi, every one seems to have a favorite or know the best place. The styles and ingredients vary substantially - very cheesy, thinner or thicker crusts, crispy or chewy, oily or dry, ovens used, classic red sauce, white sauce, and non-traditional styles with toppings like pesto.
I had not been to John's in many many years. My recollection was that I had found it overrated and somewhat disappointing. Since that time, I have primarily frequented places that serve gourmet or non-traditional styles like that of Two Boots or Ray's on Prince Street. On my recent visit to John's, however, I found the classic red sauce a refreshing change. Like going back to the roots of pizza ...

Note: John's virtually always has huge lines, although they do more fairly quickly. They do not serve slices (only whole pies) and do not take credit cards.

10 comments:

marley said...

When we stayed in NYC we went to John's twice! We loved it :)

hope n laughter said...

After having tried Lombardi, Ghiradelies (sp?)in Brooklyn, John's on Bleeker, John's in Midtown, and several other places in NY. John's won the pizza catogry.

Anonymous said...

I like this place, too.

Brian Dubé said...

The expectations for a place like this are very high, so it is very difficult to live up. I was pleasantly surprised.

cara said...

My mouth is watering. The best pizza I have ever tasted was in New York. Can't remember where now but they definately don't make it like that in England or Australia. It's a base thing.

Thérèse said...

Having read your review, I would definitively go... if I was "around the corner"...

Mary said...

Used to eat in John's in the 1960's. Haven't been back since. Guess I oughtta go.

Katie cat said...

Cool topic/post. I have always favored and recommended Two Boots, but recently at Grand Central, I did not like the slice I got. The cornmeal is such a treat though!

And I saw Grimaldi's' line for the first time the other night while out in Dumbo. I expected there to be some sort of magnificant storefront to the restaurant, but it was pretty basic. I do want to go there soon though and wait in the famous line!

Robin said...

Anyone over 55 would not like John's if they remember what pizza used to taste like. John's is DRY and pretty awful. Better to go to Brooklyn or Staten Island and not get brick oven or go to Mariella's on 3rd Avenue and 16th Street in Gramercy. Beats John's any day. Good old fashioned traditional pizza...not as good as pizza was in the 1950s or early 560s (that taste is long gone) but the best in NYC right now.

rchrd said...

I haven't been to John's in over 45 years. But it was the place where I had my very first pizza. Coming from the suburbs of Long Island, I'd escape on Saturdays to the Village via the Long Island Railroad with some friends. We were still in High School, and all I remember was stopping in at John's and someone among us ordered a pizza. I had never seen one in all my 16 years on the planet.

A few years later, I'm living in the Village ('62-68) and John's was a regular stop. But what I do remember is being annoyed that they charged $.02 for a each pat of butter.

Eventually I found a much better pizza at a stand that was in that triangle building on 7th and Bleecker.

It wasn't until I moved to the San Francisco area that I really discovered great pizza! Still, it's good to know that John's is still there!